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2007 Rotation Preview: Jason Vargas

Mike SteffanosTuesday, January 9, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Jason Vargas is a left-handed pitcher who was a second round draft pick of the Florida Marlins in 2004. In December of that year, following his first season in pro ball, he was named the #8 prospect in the Marlins organization by Baseball America. Here is a portion of his scouting report:

Strengths:   Vargas has good arm strength, working at 91-94 mph with his fastball. His tight slider is a putaway pitch against lefties. His changeup has good downward action at times and could become a plus pitch. He has a strong mound presence, working quickly and going right after hitters. He has sound mechanics and command.

Weaknesses:   Some scouts wonder if Vargas may wind up as a reliever because he has just one plus pitch against righthanders. Though he has a good physique, there's some concern about potential weight gain in his lower half. He tired near the end of the year after a late promotion to low Class A, but that's typical for first-year players.

2005 saw the young lefthander rise rapidly through the Marlins system. After beginning the season in Low-A Greensboro, Vargas was promoted to High-A Jupiter and then bumped up again to Double-A Carolina. Injuries to their staff caused the Marlins to reach down and bring Vargas up to the majors despite the fact that the southpaw was only in his second year of pro ball. It went surprisingly well, as Vargas contributed 13 starts and an ERA of just over 4 to the Marlins ultimately unsuccessful pennant run.

Giveb the fire sale and youth movement after that season, Vargas was expected to be the team's fourth starter in 2006. Unfortunately, the young lefty floundered right from the gate and was moved to the bullpen in May. He continued to struggle and was sent down to AAA-Albuquerque where his ineffective pitching persisted. After a brief recall in July, he finished the year in Albuquerque where his 7.43 ERA was actually 10 points higher than with the Marlins.

With Dontrelle Willis, Scott Olsen, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez all ahead of him, and other promising pitchers in the farm system, Vargas became expendable. In November of 2006 he was traded with fellow southpaw Adam Bostick to the Mets for right-handed relievers Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens.

Here are Vargas' numbers from all levels in 2005 and 2006:

2005 & 2006 Major and Minor League Stats -- Jason Vargas
Year-Team Starts Innings Hits/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA AVG
2005-Greensboro (Low A) 5 33.2 4.3 8.8 2.7 0.3 0.80 .140
2005-Jupiter (High A) 9 55.1 7.6 9.8 2.3 1.0 3.42 .225
2005-Carolina (AA) 3 19.0 6.2 11.8 3.3 1.4 2.84 .194
2005 Minor League Totals 17 108 6.3 9.8 2.6 0.8 2.50 .195
2005-Florida Marlins 13 73.2 8.7 7.2 3.8 0.5 4.03 .249

2006-Albuquerque (AAA) 13 69.0 12.8 6.7 3.7 1.4 7.43 .348
2006-Florida Marlins 5 43.0 10.5 5.2 6.3 1.9 7.33 .292

As I don't follow the Marlins closely, I'd be interested to learn exactly what happened with Vargas last season. He had a successful rookie debut behind him and wasn't pitching all that badly when he was demoted from the starting rotation. He has five starts in April and pitched quite well in two of them and poorly in the others (and again, the Fish were putrid as a team in April). He was taken out of the rotation after a really bad start against the Rockies on April 29, but the outing before he had pitched 6-1/3 shutout innings against the Cubs at Wrigley, allowing just one hit. In any case, he really began to suck wind when he was sent to the bullpen, and was sent down to Triple A after only four more appearances. When he was sent down, manager Joe Girardi gave the following quote to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro:

He lost some of his aggressiveness. He didn't have the command that he's had in the past with his fastball. Sometimes it's hard to work on those things here when you are working out of the bullpen. You don't get the side sessions. We just thought it was best that he went and got himself innings so we can get him back.

... Sometimes when you're struggling to throw strikes, you lose some of your aggressiveness. He's going down there to start fresh.

Obviously things didn't go well in Albuquerque for Vargas, and now he is in New York looking for that fresh start. For all of his struggles last year, Vargas will be only 24 when camp starts and entering just his fourth pro season. He had only 168 total minor league innings before he made his debut with the Marlins, with only 19 of those coming at Double A. Add those to the 69 innings he pitched in Triple A last year and you still have a very inexperienced pitcher with less than 100 cumulative innings at the advanced minor league levels.

Although Jason Vargas is no longer considered a "prospect" because of his major league experience, it's not unrealistic to view him that way. He's young and only entering his fourth season of pro ball. Certainly there is hope for Vargas to rescue his promising career as either a starter or reliever in New York. He may have struggled mightily last year, but his numbers in 2004 and 2005 were outstanding. As Baseball America pointed out in that 2004 scouting report, part of his strength as a pitcher was "sound mechanics and command." You have to believe that his extreme struggles with command last year could be attributed to a loss of confidence and simply being rushed through the system.

I'm sure the Mets would love to see the experienced Vargas step up and grab the fifth starter job, allowing Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber more seasoning in the minors. I think he has a real chance to do this, but it will depend on how fast he can recover his mechanics and his confidence. If he doesn't make the team out of training camp, I would expect to see him in New York at some point later in 2007 once his game is straightened out. Also, if he doesn't fill the bill as a starter it's conceivable he can help the team out of the bullpen, as he has been effective against lefties.

2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Orlando Hernandez
Phil Humber
John Maine
Mike Pelfrey
Oliver Perez
Alay Soler
Jason Vargas (This Article)
Dave Williams
Rotation Preview Conclusions

2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (10)

Vargas' stats scream ARM INJURY!!! Ks down, BB up, HR up-

If there was a template for the type of pitcher a smart team picks up on the cheap, he would look a lot like Jason Vargas. I probably don't follow the Fish any more than you do, but I am always interested in teams in the predicament they faced in Spring 2005. Vargas was one of their hopefuls, and so far as I have been able to learn he didn't hurt himself last season. He just got really messed up, or so they say.

For the Mets to pick up a good young lefthanded arm with a history of some success and some struggles -- that's how you want you team thinking. Take two or three of those, you get yourself a good pitcher. Vargas for Owens and Lindstrom, two pitchers who weren't going to get a chance here, is a smart move.

Some management teams can just do it, you know? Do it on some level. The best historical example I know is the Oakland A's under LaRussa and Duncan; they brought in so many good veteran arms with losing recent pasts and just turned them around, it looked like magic. And on a lower plane our own Bobby Valentine always seemed to be able to come up with a 5th or even a 4th starter from scraps on one else wanted; it's how we got Reeder, of course, but Valentine also got good work out of Orel Hershiser, Yoshii, and my man Armando Reynoso. Lots of teams suffered along with worse fifth starters than those Mets.

After a while I got the notion that maybe a journeyman starter wasn't worth so much, that a decent team could conjure one up at will out of a puff of smoke. Then Valentine departed and that fifth starter suddenly looked much more valuable.

And now we've got Omar and Willie and Coach Peterson. Things are starting to look normal -- my idea of normal -- once again.

(ps: that template for a pitcher I mentioned earlier would look like Gil Mesche, too. Only someone paid him like he was already a big success. My guys are smarter than your guys, ha ha.)

Luis - I thought that about Oliver Perez, too, but it had to do with being out of sync. Vargas doesn't have the caliber of stuff that Perez has, but I think their problems are similar. I haven't found any suspicions of injury in all of my research for this article. I guess I'm not that worried about him anyway, because while I think he can help the Mets if he gets straightened out, I don't think the team is counting on him.
dd - We're in agreement on this one. It may get the back page of the papers when you sign a big free agent or make a major trade, but it's finding guys like Vargas and getting some of them back on track that marks a really successful franchise.

This guy has Rick Peterson written all over him

I agree. If there are no physical problems, I think Peterson could get him straightened out fairly quickly -- maybe even in time to start the year in the rotation.

Vargas is just another young pitcher in the system that has a chance of being special. Along with Maine, Perez, Pelfrey, Humber, Williams, and even Soler; one or two of them has to step up and play up to their potential. It's basically a game of numbers, get enough talent and something has to work out sooner or later. Minaya always says that you cant have too many good arms, and he's right.

If someone gets hurt, I like our chances a lot better this year than last. That's another benefit of having some depth.

Excellent job on these previews Mike. The review of Vargas made it over to the message boards at nyfs and got some good reviews from people, as we are always interested in thoughts and info on the young guys. Vargas is a really interesting project for Peterson. I think Omar has done a good job of bringing in guys like this for Rick to work with, which I definitely give them credit for. I think Clint Nagoette is a really interesting guy to look at as well if you want to do another profile. Although he's probably an extreme longshot to make the rotation no matter how he does this spring.

Hojo4Life - I'm going to write some shorter profiles next week on all of the candidates for the bullpen, and that will include marginal rotation candidates like Nagoette, Schoeneweis and Standridge.

Nice, I look forward to reading the bullpen stuff. Keep up the good work

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